Arvind Kejriwal walks out of jail after India's top court grants bail in corruption case

Delhi's Chief Minister faces charges relating to $12 million in bribes

Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal greets supporters after his release from Tihar Jail in New Delhi, India, Friday, May 10, 2024.  The Supreme Court ordered Arvind Kejriwal's temporary release enabling him to campaign in the country's national election until the voting ends on June 1.  (AP)
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Delhi's embattled Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal walked out of jail on Friday, following interim bail granted by the country’s top court, almost two months after he was arrested for an alleged corruption case.

At the Supreme Court, judges Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta granted Mr Kejriwal an interim bail until June 1, following which he has to surrender on June 2.

Mr Kejriwal, whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) administers India's capital region, was arrested in March by the enforcement directorate, the federal financial crimes police, on charges of accepting bribes of about 1 billion rupees ($12 million) to pass an alcohol policy favourable to private businesses.

Upon his release, he was received by his wife Sunita Kejriwal, daughter and senior party leadership.

An army of supporters and party staff welcomed him outside jail.

“It feels great to be among you all. I told you all that I will be back soon, so here I am,” Mr Kejriwal told supporters.

“I want to thank the Supreme Court judges. I have only one request for all of you that we all together have to fight against the dictatorship,” he said, referring to Mr Modi’s government.

The 55-year-old politician has denied any wrongdoing.

He has claimed his arrest was “illegal” and carried out at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his main political rival.

The federal agency has claimed that Mr Kejriwal is a “kingpin” in the alleged scam and told the court that he was “non-co-operative” while in custody.

Mr Kejriwal was arrested on March 21 and was lodged in Tihar on April 1. He had challenged his arrest but his pleas were repeatedly rejected.

The top court on Friday said that Mr Kejriwal was given the bail given his clean character.

“The appellant Arvind Kejriwal is the Chief Minister of Delhi and a leader of one of the national parties," the bench said while pronouncing the bail order.

"No doubt, serious accusations have been made, but he has not been convicted. He does not have any criminal antecedents. He is not a threat to the society."

Television visuals showed AAP workers distributing sweets and bursting firecrackers at party headquarter in Delhi and Haryana after the news of the bail order was reported on news channels.

"Arvind Kejriwal coming out and campaigning will be a turning point for the country...There will be unprecedented changes in this election,” Saurabh Bharadwaj, AAP leader and minister in Delhi government, said.

Mr Kejriwal rose swiftly in Indian politics over the past decade, establishing the image of an anti-corruption crusader.

The AAP is a key ally of the Congress-led INDIA alliance that is contesting the election against the dominant National Democratic Alliance, Mr Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

He was one of the star campaigners of the INDIA bloc.

The court has allowed him to participate in the ongoing poll campaign as the country holds the world’s largest elections.

Tens of millions of people across the country have voted in the three rounds of polls of the staggered elections, with the fourth round taking place on May 13.

The last and seventh phase is scheduled on June 1.

Mr Kejriwal's release is seen as a major victory for the opposition camp that has been accusing Mr Modi of weaponising federal agencies against its political opponents and dissidents.

Several of politicians, including Mr Kejriwal's party colleagues such as Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, have remained in custody pending trial over the liquor scam that would have seen the exit of government from the alcohol business.

The Delhi alcohol policy was aimed at privatising the liquor business in 2021. Officials said it was intended to increase revenue and eliminate black marketing of spirits.

It was cancelled by the government after the allegations emerged, with most of the 849 private alcohol shops shutting.

Mr Kejriwal had been summoned several times for questioning but he had ignored the summons, claiming that they were “illegal”.

The agency has claimed that 450 million rupees of kickbacks were used to fund the AAP in the Goa and Punjab state elections in 2022.

Updated: May 10, 2024, 3:30 PM